How To Start Up a Comic Club

We here at comicsclub.blog are all about encouraging people to start up comic clubs, and several of you have asked for some guidance on the specifics of how to go about this. To help you get started, we are incredibly lucky to feature this Guest Post by Alix Coughlin, co-founder and wrangler of Team Ketchup, self-publishing youth comic collective

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So you think that having a Comic Club would be a Really Good Thing, and a lovely idea and you know a bunch of people who would really enjoy the chance to meet up, talk about and make comics, but you don’t know where to start?

To be honest, that’s where we were at the beginning of Team Ketchup – it was just an idea, but four years later we are self-funding, published five issues of our comic, have thirty members and have exhibited at Thought Bubble three times – it grows very quickly!

So here are some ideas, based on our experiences and with the benefit of hindsight.

We initially came together to be judges for the British Comic Awards Young People’s Choice Award http://britishcomicawards.com/ as it gave us a focus and a list of books to read. The group was put together by a librarian, Joolze, and supported by me, a parent, and we persuaded one other parent to join us. Having the group in the library meant that we had access to the catalogue of books, a trained and knowledgeable children’s librarian, and a safe space. It also meant that children from different schools and of different ages could join. However, other groups at the British Comic Awards are reading groups from schools.

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Step One  – contact your local library and ask about the possibility of starting a comic club. Libraries really want young people to come to the library, and they are looking for ways of having more community involvement. It can be once a month, or once a week for a short period of time e.g. six weeks, in the first instance, so it’s not too overwhelming. The other option is to go to your local school and ask about running a reading group focused on comics. If you are looking for a focus and a reading list, then the Excelsior Award http://www.excelsioraward.co.uk/ is a good place to start, although you do have to pay to join in. It has both a Junior Award and a list more suitable for teenagers and will help you find age appropriate material if you are not a comic fan yourself.

The main point to take from Step One is that you need people to give up their time, just a little bit, in order to get the most out of it. Look for people who are enthusiastic and willing, because they will be your greatest asset. And that goes for the kids too – do they really really want to read and talk about comics? Are they passionate about super-heroes and super-powers? Do they feel like they’re the only people they know who make comics? Are they secret comics makers who haven’t shared their work before? Get them together with other people like them, and they will blossom and grow and become much more powerful than they ever thought possible! And parents who don’t “understand” comics at first will grow to realise the potential in them and what their kids get out of being part of a comic group. We have an amazing support group of parents who help out at events, we couldn’t do it without them.

Step Two – start off small, don’t have more than 10 or 12 members, it gets loud and there will be a lot of different opinions and readers of different comic styles. For every DC/Marvel fan there is an equally loud Asterix/Tintin fan. For every reader of The Phoenix comic there will be a Raina Telgemeier devotee. Also, it makes it easier to resource as you could choose a list of books to read and easily find ten different comics to share out and swap.

For a list of resources, don’t feel like you are on your own. Comics people are amazingly generous with their knowledge and skills and there are multiple Lists of Comics out there on the internet. Twitter is especially good for advice. The British Comic Awards shortlists from the last few years are a good place to start for junior clubs, and the Excelsior Awards. Both have a lot of books from The Phoenix Comic, which are essentials for any comic club https://www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk/product-category/comic-books/  in fact they are essentials for all libraries and schools. This http://www.booktrust.org.uk/books/children/comics-and-graphic-novels/ is a good list and is split into younger and older readers. Neill has written a list based on a seven year old http://neillcameron.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/comics-and-literacy-day-4-comics-for-7.html but that was a while ago and needs adding to (seriously Neill, what else have you got to do at the moment?). Sarah McIntyre is also an amazing advocate for comics and has written some ideas here http://jabberworks.livejournal.com/502079.html

For the first few weeks just reading and sharing ideas will keep the children busy, but introduce the idea of critiquing the books they’re reading – what do they like about them? What do they notice about the colours, characters, backgrounds, stories? Who would they recommend them to and why? Get a discussion going on what features there are in a comic that makes it stand out from other story genres, what shortcuts can be used, how is the story broken down into sections? Does it give them any ideas about their own stories or an idea for a character? The more variety of styles, drawing, characters and genres they are exposed to the better for when they start their own drawing and comic creating.

Step Three – start to think about getting the kids writing and drawing their own comics. Again, you are not on your own, there are so many inspirational comic creators out there sharing their ideas. This Comics Club blog and challenges are a fabulous place to start, and easy to follow. Get Neill’s book How to Make Awesome Comics and follow the instructions – it does what it says on the tin. Start a comic-jam with guidance from Sarah McIntyre http://jabberworks.livejournal.com/?skip=5&tag=comics%20jam

http://jabberworks.livejournal.com/tag/comics%20jam  – with a video so there’s no excuse!

It will take a lot of paper, pens and pencils (and we find biscuits help too) before the kids find their style and get into making stories that make sense or don’t end in explosions and blowing up, but it is part of the process. One of things we wish we had done at the beginning was to give guidelines on layout of the comics. Ensure the children leave a margin around their page, they use clear panels that don’t join together, and that their text is written in block capitals, with the bubbles drawn in after the text is written. If they start out knowing that this is their brief, even when planning their stories, when it is printed it will look neat and tidy and be able to be reduced from A4 to A5. Print off some comic layouts for them to help them to see the style, or encourage the use of a pencil and ruler to make their own frames.

This step might need a long time to develop it, but if you use all the resources available to you there will be lots to do, plenty of exercises to develop story telling skills and understanding of the comic format. Don’t rush it!

 

Step Four – looking for funding in order to make a printed copy. This is where links with your library will be helpful as they may know what local council funding is available, and will be able to help with applications. Have a look here https://www.gov.uk/apply-funding-community-project for what is available in your area. Go small rather than big, to begin with, save that for later!

You may choose to photocopy your comic, in which case it will be cheaper, but if you want a good quality product that will sell, make contact with a printing service. You don’t need a large first run, but work out how much it will cost, how much they will sell for , and what profit you’d need for a second run, so it becomes self-funding.

If you are linked with a school, approach the Parent/Teacher Association, or the governors, or the Literacy Co-ordinator and ask for help. Funds raised can always go back into school. Year 6s are often asked to plan and carry out an Enterprise project in their last term of school, this would be a fantastic opportunity for them to research print costs, how to market the comic, who to sell to. Local colleges with Arts students are often asked to take part in enterprise schemes too, you could approach them for support and partnership.

Step Five – the children make and print their own comic. Give them a time frame – they will need to produce a first draft for approval by you (make sure the story does not offend anyone, makes sense, and can be read) then a couple of weeks to refine and finish it. Make sure that all pencil marks are inked over and then rubbed out. It’s up to you if they are coloured or not, depends on the cost of your printing. There should be a clear margin around the comic, with panels drawn in neatly, with space for a title and the name of the author.

What we expect is two submissions from each member of the group. Then we have a final deadline meeting where they read each other’s comics and then vote on which story is the best. Then the content of your comic is democratically chosen. You could also have a competition to design and draw the front cover, and the name of your collective (do choose carefully, ours was originally The Pink Fluffy Ketchup Covered Flower Ponies!).

Once all the pages are gathered in and checked, send them off the printers and let them do their job. Plan a launch party for your comic and show the world your creation!

Hope these are helpful. Let us know how you get on and share your work. We are always open to questions. We’ve always said, we might be the first self-publishing youth comic-collective in the country, but we don’t want to be the only ones!

Get in touch – Facebook: Team Ketchup, Twitter: @theteamketchup

Email : pinkfluffyketchups@gmail.com

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Welcome to comicsclub.blog!

Welcome to comicsclub.blog, a new site where we’ll be sharing ideas, activities and resources all designed to help encourage children make their own comics. We believe that comics – reading them and making them – are a hugely powerful way of developing children’s literacy skills and creativity. And, also, are FUN.

There are many local groups and comics clubs around the country doing excellent work with kids already; this blog is intended as hopefully a way of joining up some of those efforts; of sharing ideas and resources and encouraging more people to set up comics clubs in their own schools and libraries and communities.

I’m Neill Cameron, I’m a writer and cartoonist (you can find out more about my own work here). I suppose what’s relevant here is that I made a book called How to Make Awesome Comics, and I’ve spent the last coming-up-on-a-decade teaching comics workshops in schools and libraries and at festivals all over the UK. I currently run a monthly comics club with a group of amazing kids at the Story Museum in Oxford, and I thought it would be fun to share some of what we do there, and also to join in with the great stuff that others are doing all over the country.

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I wanted to set up this site because… well, because I think comics matter. Here’s an excerpt from a blog post I wrote on this subject a couple of years ago, which is possibly my best attempt to explain why:

Comics matter, for all the reasons that reading matters. Learning to read makes a tangible, measurable difference to children’s lives and prospects, in terms of economic outcomes and quality of life. And comics are – have been, can be, will be again – a huge part of learning to read. Of reading for pleasure; of coming to love reading; making it not something that is enforced from above, a Discipline That Must Be Mastered, but something so exciting and cool and mind-blowingly awesome that it has to be torn out of kids’ hands when it’s time to go to bed.

And if any part of you is wondering if this is still true, if children still have that response to comics, then let me put your mind to rest right now: they do. They absolutely do. Comics perform a fantastic dual purpose:

  • providing kids with a visual narrative that they can follow and engage with while their verbal literacy skills are still developing, thus encouraging the development of those skills
  • offering unique opportunities for exciting subject matter that can hook kids imaginations, lending itself to strong visuals. Robots! Dinosaurs! Mutant rabbits with laser nunchuks! COMICS.

When kids actually get to see comics, when they are given exciting stories and phenomenal artwork and funny jokes about beavers doing a radioactive poo, they flip out. They dive in with both feet and get lost and fall for comics so hard that it alternately makes me inspired and delighted and, actually, angry.

Angry because I’ve seen, first hand and over and over again, just how much enjoyment and hilarity and genuine learning and TANGIBLE INCREASES IN READING DEVELOPMENT kids get from comics like Corpse Talk, or Dungeon Fun, or Moose Kid, or Star Cat. And because I know, all too well, that those comics are not a part of the lives of the vast majority of children, right now. They’re not in the corner shop, they’re not in big rainy day trunks at school, they’re not in the dentist’s waiting room. They are, to generalise wildly, the province of a privileged few: those with parents who can afford them and have even heard of them in the first place. All of which immediately limits your reach down dramatically to a pretty small circle of ‘in the know’ people. And whilst I love those people to bits and indeed am one of them, I think we can all agree it’s not enough. We need to break past that circle, to explode the art form outwards and back to where it should be; an available, accessible, affordable part of the lives of all children.

 

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To start with, this blog will be posting monthly Comics Challenges – fun activities designed to kickstart a comics club session, some of them contributed by Neill, but also by a range of amazing cartoonists who’ll be joining in and sharing ideas.

One thing we’ll be focusing on is designing activities with a view to being achievable by non-professional artists. One of the founding principles of this blog is that Anyone Can Draw, Even People Who Think They Can’t Draw, with the corollary that Drawing Is Fun And You Should Totally Have a Go. We’ll also be looking at the amazing work being done by kids in comics clubs around the country, and sharing ideas and advice from group leaders on how to set up your own club.

Our first Comics Challenge will be appearing right here in two days, on Friday 13th January 2017. Sharpen your pencils, grab some paper and sit in EAGER ANTICIPATION, it’s going to be fun!

In the meantime, we’ll be trying to use this site as a hub for Useful Resources – you can find some blank comics page templates to print off and use, a list of recommended books on making comics (including the one I made, CONFLICT OF INTEREST WARNING), and links to some useful stuff you can find around the web.

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If you’d like to be kept up to date on what we’re getting up to here at comicsclub.blog, you can:

And finally, we’d love to hear from YOU – on twitter or you can use our Contact page to get in touch. Particularly we’d like to hear from…

  • Teachers and Librarians! If you run a comics club already, or are thinking of setting one up, drop us a line! We’re hoping to feature work from as many different groups as possible, so please do let us know what you’re doing and help us shout about it!
  • Comics Creators and festival organisers! If you have any public comics workshops / events coming up, let us know about them so we can feature them on our Events page!
  • Literally anyone with a good idea. We’re just starting out here and we’d love to hear your thoughts – on what you’d like to see, on what would be useful – on any ways YOU might be able to help us. Our goal is to Help Awesome Kids Make Awesome Comics, and we’d love it if you could help us with that.

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Image credits: illustrations (c) 2017 by Neill Cameron. Photos in this post feature work by: The Students of Neill’s Comics Club groups at The Story Museum, The Pupils of Wood Farm School, The Pupils of Lent Rise School, Jonny Toons, Jordan Vigay, Zoom Rockman, Team Ketchup, Byron & Indigo Buchan, Neill & James Cameron.

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